The annual year-end recap

This is my third year doing Sundry's year end recap. If you care, here's 2008 and 2009.

1. What did you do in 2010 that you'd never done before?
Watched my child lick an airplane toilet seat.

2. Did you keep your new year’s resolutions, and will you make more for next year?

Last year I made a single word vow: SLOW and called it my Doomed Personal Initiative 2010. It was helpful and difficult and I will be attempting to move slower and be more present for the rest of my life.

3. Did anyone close to you give birth?

Two college friends JUST had their babies. YAY!

4. Did anyone close to you die?

Yes, sadly, we lost both my father-in-law and my cousin suddenly this year. It was a rotten year, in terms of loss. We're hoping for a reprieve in 2011.

5. What countries did you visit?

Sadly, none, though we have plans for a big family trip to Jamaica in February!

6. What would you like to have in 2011 that you lacked in 2010?

This is what I said last year: "A sense of connectedness to my new life here in VA. A really good friend here who I can call up and cry/giggle/kvetch with."

I now have have one great friend who I can call and cry/giggle/kvetch with. I'm still searching for that elusive "sense of connectedness". I would love to feel more like a "Virginian". I want this house, this town, this state to be my home and I know that just takes time and effort.

I want to feel part of a community.

I want to feel like I belong.

7. What dates from 2010 will remain etched upon your memory, and why?

July 6th, 2010, the day my father-in-law suffered an aortic dissection. The next day, instead of me flying to Massachusetts for my cousin's funeral, CG flew to Arizona to be with his father for the last time.

8. What was your biggest achievement of the year?

Accepting that all my hard work, all my daily efforts, were not enough to keep me on an even keel. Acknowledging that I was not the parent, or person, I wanted to be and starting to take an antidepressant. It was a big step for me. And the right one.

(It's been two months. I didn't mention it before now because... I wasn't ready I guess.)

9. What was your biggest failure?

It is always the same: losing my temper. Each and every time it happens I think: who is this monster?

10. Did you suffer illness or injury?

Nothing major for me this year, though my body feels older, sag-ier and creak-ier with each passing year.

11. What was the best thing you bought?


12. Whose behavior merited celebration?

I'm thrilled by the repeal of Don't Ask, Don't Tell (one of the worst legacies of the Clinton administration, IMO).

Jon Stewart, especially for the Rally to Restore Sanity and his championing of the First Responders Bill.

13. Whose behavior made you appalled and depressed?

I'm sorry to get all political on you but what has happened to John McCain? Is this really the legacy he wants to leave behind?

14. Where did most of your money go?

Mortgage, insurances, preschool, Wegmans, Target. (and, I will shamefully admit, Amazon. Amazon prime has been my downfall. It's just too easy and fast to get everything and ... I'm lazy.)

15. What did you get really, really, really excited about?

The girls. Oh, the girls. They are starting to really and truly play together and the love is so there and WOW. It blows me away.

16. What song will always remind you of 2010?

Cee Lo Green, "F%ck you". I sing it at top volume and think about my dad's cancer.

17. Compared to this time last year, are you:
a) happier or sadder? Oh, I'm definitely happier. E is sleeping better, for starters. Well, I can actually pretty much start AND stop there because I become someone I wouldn't want to meet in a dark alley when I don't get enough sleep.
b) thinner or fatter? um. Same?
c) richer or poorer? Same.

18. What do you wish you’d done more of?

Here's what I said the last two years: "Danced. Cooked. Gardened. Hugged. Written letters. Made phone calls. Reached out."

I am cooking real food more and we started our garden bed this year. I hug the girls as often as they'll let me and my husband as often as we remember that we're living, breathing human beings who love each other, not just snack-procurement/bottom-wiping machines. I still want to reach out more to the people I love, make phone calls, write letters. And make new friends in VA. As an anxious but needy introvert, it's not easy to get my relationship fill.

And doing more dancing has proven to be a big problem. Z and E aren't into dance parties at the moment (Well, not my free-form dance parties. Z wants to hang on me, E wants to be up in my arms and that kind of dancing isn't really dancing.) and not enough people are getting married to quench my hunger for the dance floor. I think the single worst part about moving to a small, rural town is that there is NO place to go out dancing at a club - let alone take an adult modern dance class -in a 50 mile radius.) (Unless you count seedy biker bars with jukeboxes.) (Which I don't.)

19. What do you wish you’d done less of?

Same as last year: "Lost my temper. Curled inward instead of reaching outward."

20. How did you spend Christmas?

Here, in Arizona, with my husband's family, desperately trying to reconcile the shrieks of joy from the girls and the sad cloud of grief that lingers over a holiday when someone you love is missing.

21. Did you fall in love in 2010?

Not with anyone new.

22. What was your favorite TV program?

We've watched so little TV this year. Like almost none. And I'm not sure if that's something I'm proud of or depressed by.

But we always watch Mad Men. And we're getting ready for Big Love.

23. Do you hate anyone now that you didn’t hate this time last year?

I don't really go for the word "hate".

24. What was the best book you read?

Oh this is so hard. I simply cannot chose just one.

Best literary fiction: a tie between "A Visit From the Goon Squad" by Jennifer Egan and "Olive Kitteredge" by Elizabeth Strout.

Best romantic romp: "One Day" by David Nicholls

Best feel good read: "The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society" by Mary Ann Shaffer.

25. What was your greatest musical discovery?

I'm always about three years behind every trend (I just bought my first pair of skinny jeans.) (I hate the term "skinny jeans".) so I am delighting in Cee Lo Green at the moment.

26. What did you want and get?

A weekend away with my husband.

27. What did you want and not get?

My dad to be completely clear of cancer. Fucking cancer.

28. What was your favorite film of this year?

Dude. I saw NOTHING this year. (For anyone who wonders how I read so many books this year: THIS IS HOW. I don't watch TV or movies. AT ALL.) Thinking carefully (and looking up the top 50 movies of the year) I think I can safely say I saw exactly one of them: Toy Story 3. Which was cute, I guess. (LAME.) (MUST SEE SOME MOVIES.)

29. What did you do on your birthday, and how old were you?

I turned 38 this year and spent it at home with family. It was simple and wonderful.

30. What one thing would have made your year immeasurably more satisfying?

Not losing any family members.

31. How would you describe your personal fashion concept in 2010?

So Far From The Juniors Section, It Isn't Even Funny.

32. What kept you sane?

Quiet time spent not cooking, cleaning, emailing or folding laundry. Quiet time that was truly quiet (usually). It all made sense after reading "The Highly Sensitive Person" this summer. I need significant down time, alone time, quiet time, every day. If I don't get it, I lash out. Giving myself that time was amazing. I always lay on my bed. Sometimes I slept, but more often than not I read. And was inspired.

Then, of course, I have to give a shout out to SSRIs.

33. Which celebrity/public figure did you fancy the most?

My thing for Paul Rudd continues unabated.

And my thing for Jon Stewart has grown.

34. What political issue stirred you the most?

Marriage equality/DADT.

35. Who did you miss?

My father-in-law.

My cousin.

36. Who was the best new person you met?

My newly medicated self.

37. Tell us a valuable life lesson you learned in 2010.

Taking antidepressants doesn't mean you're weak or crazy or stupid. In fact, in can be the strongest, sanest, smartest thing you've done in a long time.

38. Quote a song lyric that sums up your year.

"Don't believe the things you tell yourself so late at night. You are your own worst enemy. You'll never win the fight."- Ingrid Michaelson, Parachute.


Making Christmas more like Thanksgiving

Our Thanksgiving Bowl

I have always loved Thanksgiving. It's the one holiday that is about food and family and giving thanks for all we have. That's it. No religious squabbles. (Though I imagine it's only a matter of time before we'll see billboards exhorting vegetarians to "Keep the Turkey in Thanksgiving".) No presents to buy and stress over. Nothing you're supposed to do other than eat and be with friends and family. The to-do list is short: Buy good food and spend some time making it. Sit. Eat it. Eat some more. Talk about what you are thankful for (with the help of our Thanksgiving Bowl). Clean up while chatting. Unbutton top button of pants. DONE.

Every year, it seems like it's easy to make Thanksgiving meaningful and simple.

Christmas is a different story.

Every year I wrestle with how to make Christmas as delicious and precious as Thanksgiving. How to keep it focused on our blessings and our abundance. I want our children to have warm memories of this time and yet I want to stay sane and keep it simple.

Between the nonstop wants that emanate from my oldest child, the internal pressure to get it all "right", the desire and guilt about wanting to spend time with EVERYONE, it feels like an uphill battle.

Unfortunately, many of the things that feel like they would make Christmas meaningful are most decidedly NOT simple. "I know! This year I'll MAKE everyone a present!" (Because I have so much free time?!) "I know! This year we'll make multiple batches of several Christmas cookies from both sides of the family! It's our heritage!" (And our heritage will take all my time and patience and leave the girls hopped up on sugar and us needing a whole new wardrobe to accommodate our new bellies). "I know! Let's forget presents this year and hide under the covers!"


("Yes! Let's!")

So we're doing what we always do: we're taking baby steps in the right direction, hoping that as we get closer, we'll get faster and the way will get clearer.

This year, we found a little farm right outside of town and cut down our own tree. They had horses and hot chocolate and we froze our tails off. It was a far cry from getting our tree from a vacant lot in LA and it felt like we were getting a little closer.

We walked into our little downtown on Saturday and watched the holiday parade. Cub scouts handed out candy canes and shivering beauty queens waved and Z and E danced to the marching band playing Feliz Navidad and we felt a lot closer to what we wanted for our girls around Christmas.

CG's family is only doing stocking stuffers for the adults so that we can all pitch in and donate a lump sum to a charity that was close to my father-in-law's heart. That feels clear and right.

We will sit down with Z this weekend and let her chose which charity to donate the money that has been accruing every week in her "charity" piggy bank. She will also pick out and buy a present for her sister from her "gifts" piggy bank. That's getting closer and closer.

What about you? What brings you closer to the kind of Christmas you want for your family?


The 2010 Book Roundup

If your holidays are at all like our family's, there are a whole lot of flatish rectangular packages under the tree. Basically, we see holidays as a chance to give each other books. Lots and lots of books.

So, in case you are like me and like to give (and get!) books and haven't finished (or, ahem, STARTED) your holiday shopping yet, here's the roundup of books I've read in the past year. Perhaps you will find something for someone on your list. Perhaps you will be so moved as to tell me what to give to the impossible-to-buy-for people on my list! (PLEASE!)

I set out this past year to keep track of every book I read. The running ticker to the lower right on the blog over there lists them. And without further ado, here is what I thought of them all. I will not cheat and flip through them, I will write only what I remember. Since I have a terrible memory, this should be interesting.


"The Middle Place": This best thing about this memoir is the concept of being in "the middle place": managing your relationships with your children and your parents at the same time. There are unique challenges to this time of life, especially if your father has cancer like me and the author, and you do too, (like the author, NOT ME). I did, however, find myself wanting to punch her several times and I'm not a puncher.


"The Bean Trees": I love Barbara Kingsolver but had never read this, her first novel. I remember liking it fine. But I wasn't wowed and now I can barely remember it. (Sorry, Barbara! Love you!)


"Olive Kitteredge": I LOVED THIS BOOK. Olive Kitteredge, the character, is at the edge of some of the chapters/stories and in the center of others. I often wanted to strangle her (perhaps I am actually quite violent!?) I often didn't like her. I ALWAYS understood her and believed in her as a character. She was a living, breathing person to me, as real as anyone I've ever met. I loved the perfectly defined characters and dialogue. Such a gem of a book.


"The Book Thief": Well, this was a bit of a rough transition after Olive Kitteredge but I liked this Holocaust centered young adult novel. Very creatively written, heart-felt and touching. (I totally cried. Several times.)


"Buddhism for Mothers of Young Children": I remember totally LOVING this book. And now? I completely forget everything it said. I will go back and reread it soon. I remember enough vague goodness to recommend it as a good gift for the wanna-be-zen mama in your life.


"MommaZen": Ditto above.


"A Homemade Life": Do you all read Molly? Oh, you should. This is her foodish memoir. Some of the recipes are TO DIE FOR (Try the chocolate chip banana bread with crystalized ginger and see if you can ever go back to plain banana bread. Go ahead, I DARE YOU.). Her writing is crystal clear, spare, lovely. A great gift for the twentyish/early-thirty something gourmand in your life.


"Devotion": I liked this, I think. But I barely remember it. Mom memoir, "family of origin was religious so where am I now?" , working motherhood, child was sick at some point making her question her faith.... Yeah, that's all I got.


"Still Alice": HOLY CRAP. This novel still haunts me. For someone who reads, and promply FORGETS, a lot, I am shocked by how many specific details I remember from this book. I was so rocked by this book that I still lie awake at night thinking about it. The narrator is a successful professor and mother who finds out she has early onset Alzheimer's. If that sounds like a downer, it is. It's also beautiful, uplifting and thought-provoking. A great one for book clubs.


"The Curse of the Good Girl": I liked this book and found it thought provoking. As I read, I tried to file things away for when the girls are older but since I can't remember much about it now, I obviously need to read it again. In a few years.


"Manhood for Amateurs": This is personal essay writing at its best. Michael Chabon is simply a divine writer. This would make a great gift for guys who like to read great prose.


"Bel Canto": I read this for a book group years ago and then again for a book group this year. I remember liking it then and I was pretty wowed by it this time as well. But it's not so current, if you're looking for new novels to read or give, look on.


"The Host": This book pissed me off. Really pissed me off. I actually laughed out loud at several plot points and moments of dialogue and not in a good way. But I finished it, which I don't always do with books that I'm annoyed by. Stephanie Meyer ain't no poet but she's got a knack for making me turn pages (sometimes to skip some of her ridiculous prose, sometimes to find out what happens next.) Your twenty-something babysitter who loved Twilight would love this book.


"The Kids are Alright": (PSA: Not at all related to the movie of the same name that came out this year. ) Holy moly, the poor kids who wrote this memoir were most certainly NOT alright for a long time and I kept wanting to go back in time and retroactively adopt these siblings who lost their parents and found themselves adrift as children and young adults. The youngest, poor child, was adopted by some less-than-loving couple who cut her off from her siblings and any love of any kind. SO WRONG. Great gift for the "Angela's Ashes"/"Glass Castle"-loving reader in your life.


"The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society"- The feel good novel of the year! Lovely! Two thumbs up! Read it with someone you love! Give it to someone you love! I am!


"Making Toast": Grandfather loses doctor daughter to sudden heart event, moves in with her family (including 3 young children). Makes toast. Writes a memoir of his year with them. Simple. Profound. Probably not the kind of book to give to anyone, unless they've been through something similar or just love to read this kind of tear-jerky memoir. (That would be me).


"Testimony": An intriguing beach-y read, this novel is set in a New England private school. From the beginning we understand there has been a sexual event between students, questionable in origin and consent, followed by a cover-up by the school administration. Catastrophic fall-out ensues. I was put off by the first chapter, wherein the sex-act is described in graphic detail as the head master views a videotape of it. But I'm glad I kept reading. Other chapters are completely riveting as each one tells a slice of the story in a different character's voice/point of view. I remember going to bed super early to read as much as I could several nights in a row.


"The Thirteenth Tale": Two ladies in olden times. Old books. Missing tale that told a hidden story. ....... ehhhhh......That's all I remember.


"Every Last One": SCREW YOU Anna Quindlan. I love you, normally. Really, I do. And it's my own fault for not even glancing at the synopsis of this novel before reading it which is unlike me. I picked it up at the library on a whim and started it that night only to be BLINDSIDED by the horrific act (yes, truly horrific) and I really wanted to not read it anymore but the damage had already been done and now I'm depressed again just thinking about it and it didn't even actually happen. GAH. NOT a gift book.


"The Art of Racing in the Rain": This was a great palate cleanser after the last one. A novel told from the point of view of a dog (Wait! Don't run away!), it follows the dog through the last few years of its life with his owner and family. Touching, beautiful. Cry, laugh, CRY SOME MORE (but in a GOOD way!) Give it to the dog-lover in your life. Also good for guys since it includes a lot about car racing which I don't really know anything about or really even care to know anything about and yet now I feel like I almost both care AND know something about it after reading this book.


"Nurtureshock": OH SO INTERESTING. We're talking about this in my book club TONIGHT. Find out why your baby is racist (yes really!) Consider up and moving to Neptune New Jersey! Buy for the parenting-book-reading friend/loved one in your life!


"Marriage and Other acts of Charity": Read it for the title alone, though you might want to cover the title up when reading around your husband. Beautiful, wise memoir about the power of truly charitable love in the marital relationship.


"It Sucked and Then I Cried": It was okay and then I read another book.


"One Day": OMG. FUN ROMANTIC NOVEL. Perfect for those who liked the Time Traveler's Wife or any other almost-literary romantic-type books. I can't wait for the movie. BRING ON THE MOVIE. Buy for your sister or sister-in-law or sister-from-another-mister.


A Visit from The Goon Squad: Tied with Olive Kitteredge as my favorite novel of the year. Intensely good. So well crafted you will marvel. Buy it for the literary reader in your life, male or female.


"The Year of Magical Thinking": Joan Didion is a goddess. Never cared for her novels but her personal and critical essays are unparalleled. This memoir of the year after she lost her husband suddenly to a heart attack is beautiful and it has been very helpful to me and CG's family after losing my father-in-law this summer.


"Millionaire Babies and Bankrupt Brats": This book started us on the road to giving Z an allowance in an attempt to help teach her money management. Ask me in twenty years how we did. (I'm hoping for a millionaire! GO MILLIONAIRE!) It's not a prettily printed book and therefore, not a good gift, IMO.


"Little Bee": Bestselling novel about two people, one a black African girl, the other a white English woman, whose lives intersect in devastating ways. This is a brutal novel, not one for the faint of heart. But very well written, compelling and thought-provoking. Good for the "Kite Runner"-lover in your life.


"The Highly Sensitive Child"/"The Highly Sensitive Person": These were SO important to me this summer in trying to understand Z and, then, myself. We are highly sensitive and it explains SO MUCH. If you or someone you know is highly sensitive, these books are helpful. But here's a tip: it might not be a good gift for someone who is, you know, SENSITIVE about being highly sensitive.


The Hunger Games/Catching Fire/Mockingjay: This young adult novel triology = crack. PLOT with ALL CAPS. Violent but fun.


"Hunting and Gathering": French novel about four strangers whose lives intertwine. I HATED this book for the first 50 pages. SLOW GOING, nothing happening, WHY SHOULD I CARE. And then, I REALLY CARED. And wept at the end. Don't know why I hated it so much at the beginning. (Could have been that I had just read fun, PLOTTY PLOT PLOT Hunger Games....)


"A Girl Named Zippy"/"She Got Up off the Couch": These memoirs of the author's childhood in a tiny Indiana town are magic. Unique, quirky, funny. Great for folks who love memoirs and poetic prose and the good old days.


"What Should I Do With My Life?": I have a crush on Po Bronson. There, I said it. He is co-author of NurtureShock and I read this book in full on crush-mode.

I still have the crush. Interesting book about the different paths people take to making a life/career for themselves. Would be a great book for the soul searcher in your life.


"The Forgotten Garden": Longish novel by Australian author. I've already forgotten it and I just finished it two weeks ago.


"Dead Until Dark": Oh yes, I will be reading ALL the Sookie Stackhouse novels now. Bring on the True Blood!


"Unbroken": I have not finished this yet but I must include it because OMG it's amazing and would be a great gift for the men in your life (are they not the HARDEST to buy for?!?!). This amazing true story of Louie Zamperini, Olympic runner, courageous WW2 survivor will have you gripping the edge of your pillow.

Well. That only took me two weeks to post. (OY.)

Now: your book suggestions, please!


The missing husband

We hosted CG's family for Thanksgiving, the first major family holiday without my father-in-law. We were predictably sad about his absence, though happy to be together. With our house full to the seams, Z slept in our room on the floor leaving CG and I little time to speak privately and we mostly bustled about separately, tending to children, meals and family.

After the long weekend, CG left for a four-day work trip and my mother-in-law stayed with me and the girls to help out. Our lives were quiet and normal. Morning preschool for Z, grocery shopping and cooking for me and E. At night I would retire to my big empty bed, listening to every creak and groan of the house, missing the safety and weight of a slumbering husband within arms reach. I couldn't help imagining my mother-in-law doing the same, every single night.

My mother-in-law and I cooked food to share, picked up after ourselves and each other, asked one another if we'd like a cup of tea "since I'm getting one for myself", the kinds of things you ask one another when you're part of a home, a couple of people living together. I was conscious of how I could rest assured that my husband was coming home to do those same things for me once my mother-in-law was gone.

Despite her company, I found myself missing my husband a lot, wishing I could consult with him about the girls, the house, the minutiae of life you share with a partner. I talked to my mother-in-law about her minor surgery that is scheduled for next week, and wondered about how to manage such a thing when one no longer has a partner to rely on to drive you, be in charge of food and household matters, talk to the doctors and make sure you get to appointments on time.

On Friday, I drove my mother-in-law to the airport and said goodbye with a teary hug. I imagined her navigating the plane by herself, arriving home to a dark, empty house. A cold, empty bed. Without anyone on the other side.

That afternoon, CG arrived home, lay down on the bed next to me, filling his spot. Added weight and substance where I need it. We talked a little, looked at each other, listened, supported, asked, cared.

And, for a moment, I didn't take him for granted. I was so thankful my missing husband had come home to me and wished with renewed vigor that the same could be true for my mother-in-law.


Keep trying

As I entered the warm, chlorine-soaked air, I had already given up. Z had been spectacularly whiny all day, throwing fits about washing her hands, sharing her toys, getting ready for her swim lesson. She didn't want to go to her swim lesson, she hates it, you see, and nothing was going to change her mind. The previous week, she had been so stubborn with her teacher about not wanting to put her face in the water that it seemed clear this whole endeavor was a colossal waste of time.

There's only two more weeks left of swim lesson. We'll finish this out and be DONE.

Maybe we'll even skip the last week....

I was flashing forward to the expected scene at the end of the lesson, when we all would crowd into a tiny shower stall in the cold locker room, E slipping and eating soap, Z loudly whining about how cold she is.

Isn't there some saying about doing the exact same thing over and over again but expecting a different result?

E had been a challenge all day, too. At the tail end of a cold, she was extra clingy and screechy and just now discovering the joys of throwing herself on the ground in a heap at the slightest frustration. She would surely spend the entirety of her sister's swim lesson drinking the pool water right after I told her NO and running away from me, headfirst toward the deep end.

The two girls seem to do this, set each other off, inspire each other in a contagious downward spiral. Good thing I resist the temptation to get pulled along for the ride.


I walked with the girls past the long lanes of impossibly young high schoolers doing laps in the churning water like spawning fish through a busy stream and tried very hard to ignore the tidal motion contained in each of my thighs, set off by every strike of my heels.

No one sees me. No one cares about my pale, dimpled thighs or my stretched out bathing suit or the several crucial spots my razor missed.

When we got to the "beach entrance", Z took off for the water at a gleeful skip. She splashed in and her sister lurched forward toward her, squealing. By the time Z's teacher arrived for her lesson, the girls were having a rousing game of "Catch That Duckie", throwing a little rubber duck for the other to catch, and laughing their heads off.

Z left for her lesson and E and I settled into the edge of the water with our toys. E chose the stacking cups, quickly building them into a tall tower. The strange muffled-yet-LOUD sounds of the busy pool quieted as I watched her complete concentration on her task. When one cup fell, she calmly picked it up and tried again, until she had a tower she was pleased with. Her shiny face turned toward me in triumph and I clapped and marveled and was finally present for the first time all day.

After about fifteen minutes, E started pulling my hand, trying to lead me toward her sister, begging "ZeeZee! ZEEEZEEEE!" so we went to see just what Z was up to.

Walking up, I wasn't sure where Z was until I recognized her suit on a form that was face down in the water, goggles on, pushing off away from the wall toward her teacher like some kind of ... swimmer. Her teacher beamed up at me, nodding her head at my astonishment. Z leapt out of the water, quickly rubbed the dreaded water off her face and yelped "I swam, Mommy! I swam!"

"YOU SWAM!" I screamed back. "I saw you!"

E and I stayed for a little longer, clapping and grinning as Z put her face in the water over and over again.

We laughed and hugged through the shower and got dressed without a single whine. As we walked out of the locker room, Z looked at me and said, "I'm so proud of myself, Mom. I kept trying."

"I'm proud of you too, Boo. We all need to remember to keep trying."


Grampa's stories always have happy endings

When my parents last came to visit, he was having headaches. He gets migraines occasionally but his usual medication for them wasn't working. He has persistent allergies and recurrent sinus infections but a thorough treatment for both of these didn't touch his pain. He is plagued by soft teeth and jaw problems, but a visit to the dentist and several crowns later and he was still clutching his head at regular intervals.

But he came anyway, that weekend in October, because it was Z's Grandparents Day at her school and he didn't want to miss it.

So he didn't.
He rallied. He and my mom watched her do a few of her works and ate the snack she brought to them. My dad gamely played Grampa Jungle Gym on the playground and just had to try out the kiddie bikes that go in a circle.

I wish I didn't feel the need to blur out the kids' faces because they are laughing their heads off.

By the end of the weekend, he was pretty miserable. On Monday, he found out he had shingles. On Thursday, he found out his cancer had returned, this time in his brain.

To say this hangs heavy on my heart, on my days, is an understatement. I knew that nothing in life is promised, that every day is precious and shouldn't be taken for granted. I knew that. I know that.

Cancer, I don't fucking need to be reminded of that.

By the way, I love to address my anger to "Cancer", like it's a person. Someone to be reasoned or bargained with, or if all else fails, to be beaten into submission. It's not, of course, and there is no reasoning or bargaining with this wily and vicious disease that has touched or will touch so many of our lives. But talking to it helps. Yelling at it helps more. The anger has to go somewhere.

He has completed his three weeks of radiation, battered, weakened but hoping to be victorious this time. When we went to go visit them two weekends ago, he was tired. But not too tired to tell Z bedtime stories, which, next to playing with my old collection of Barbies, is her favorite part of visiting my parents.

They are always princess stories and they always have to have happy endings.


Obsessions and diversions

I have a problem.

I crave it. I need it. I find myself twitchy if I don't get to spend some serious time doing it every day. Whenever a quiet moment arrives, I seek it out. I hide how much I do it. I know where all my favorite things are stashed. I think carefully about which one I chose. I lust for just a moment with my beloved and fantasize about sinking into a pillow, sighing with relief that my time with it is finally here.

I am, of course, talking about reading.

I cannot seem to get enough of reading. I want to do it all the time. I get very cranky, twitchy even, if a day goes by and I haven't had enough time to read. I have been known to get particularly pissy when interrupted while reading something really interesting when I'm almost finished.

(One might even say I am an avid and voracious reader.) (That was for Swistle.)

I like to think of this vice as more than socially acceptable, why it's LAUDABLE! It can only be a good thing that I read every spare second, often ignoring my children's requests for attention because I NEED to find out what happens to our poor Katniss! It's okay with me that they will remember me as Mom-who-always-had-her-nose-in-a-book/New Yorker/newspaper because haven't we all have heard that seeing parents read is the key to making our children geniuses (or something like that)?

I also like to think that my reading habit is preferable to watching television. After all, escaping into the blue-lighted oblivion of the Real World/Road Rules Challenge and its ilk has always been a sure sign that I am headed to a full-blown depression. Too much TV leaves me feeling slack-jawed, restless and in desperate need of both a shower and a long walk. Reading, on the other hand, brings me real knowledge, relaxation and contentment.

When I'm being honest, I must admit that I escape into reading in much the same way that I have, on occasion, escaped into TV. I long to dive into someone else's reality; now, I just choose to find that escape through the written word rather than the flickering screen. I still cling to the belief that reading is essentially beneficial and when so much of my SAHM day can feel like mindless drudgery, I yearn for the mental stimulation most reading brings. I feel, frankly, that it is my DUE.

CG, that rational spoilsport, disagrees with me, though. He feels the breakfast table should be free of reading materials to better facilitate face-to-face communication (pffft, whatever that is) and finds it off-putting that the first thing I want to do after putting the girls to bed is read. He claims QUESTIONABLE instances of me not hearing the kids ask me something of vital importance. (You want more milk? WHATEVER. I'm reading the NYT Modern Love column.) He expresses grave concerns about how much time is lost that could be used finding real-live, live-in-Virginia type friends because I am so often engrossed in the written lives of computer-based friendships.

(But you're my real friends, too! You are!)

I do understand his point of view and so I am struggling to let go of my newspaper-at-the-table breakfast. And I'm trying to set aside specific blog reading time and leave all books and magazines in the bedroom to be reserved for quiet time and bedtime.

In exchange, though, I think he should have to turn off his iPhone at the table.



My little remora

I started a post with this same title three years ago when Z was E's age now. I had been complaining to CG about how clingy Z was, how impossible it was for me to cook dinner/fold laundry/shove food in my pie-hole/DO ANYTHING, because I "always have this barnacle attached to my side". CG, being a biologist and resident Know-er of Annoyingly Useful Knowledge, corrected me: "I'd say she's more like a remora than a barnacle." And I, once again, snuck over to my laptop to Google a word I was pretty sure he just made up.

Remora: noun. Marine fish with a flattened elongated body and a sucking disk on the head for attaching to larger fish or moving objects.

I think this photo sums up how I feel much of the time.

It is vaguely comforting to know it was a phase that Z obviously left behind sometime between one and a half and FOUR, however it is no accident that I NEVER FINISHED THAT PREVIOUS POST. Because this is my life right now: I'm lucky if I finish wiping my ass.

E has two settings at the moment: gleeful destruction and remora-like clinging. It seems she must even out every moment of running full speed into traffic with an equally stressful high-octave cling-fest later. It is simply exhausting as she toggles between the two with little to no transition or warning. When she has decided she is finished clinging for the moment, she will suddenly fling herself out of my arms, headfirst, with such force and velocity that I fear it is only a matter of time before she lands smack on the top of her wee head. (Though, I must say, my reflexes are getting SHARP. Give me a bow and arrow! I'm ready for the Hunger Games!) She prances away from me at the library or at home while we're folding the laundry and the next thing you know she's found a stack of books to knock over onto smaller children or she's twisted my delicate eyeglasses that she managed to pull out of their case. The case that was in my fully zippered purse. Which was in the CLOSED closet. The last time I tried to pee with her in the room (because, of course, I cannot pee without her, lest she scream her little head off outside the door), she managed to pull down a bottle of infant Tylenol I had on the counter (because, of course, she's also teething) and opened the DEFINITELY CLOSED child-proofed cap while I watched. And all that was just today.

But WOE UNTO YOU if you try to leave her. And by "you" I mean ME. It's all Mommy, all the time over here and as flattering as it might seem from a distance, it frankly sucks (pun not intended but accepted) from up close. I cannot leave the room, or even her line of sight, without her wailing and needing to be picked Uhp! UHp! immediately. Since she has yet to develop the remora's suction cup (Oh, but GIVE HER TIME), the dinner hour requires me to break out the Ergo and chose between strapping her on my front (all the better for her to pick my nose and laugh while I try to see the stove over her head and not burn her toes), my side (where she tries to pinch off the skin tags that grow on the loose flesh between my former boobs and my armpits), or my back (where she likes to pull the little wispy hairs at the base of my neck until I come unhinged.)

This is where my little girl leaves the remora behind because, according to University of Michigan Museum of Zoology, remoras are "considered to have a commensal relationship with their host, since they do not hurt the host and are just along for the ride." (Add "commensal" to the list of words I had to look up because I was pretty sure someone made them up.) They also, apparently, help out by removing parasites off the host.

Yo, E. Those skin tags are not parasites. Leave them be.

And, apparently, E didn't get the memo about NOT HURTING THE HOST.

Watch out.

I'm comin' for you.

Just wait till I get my suction cup....


Can you tell I never write poetry?

O, Daylight Savings Time
Whose idea was this crime?

You giveth and you taketh away
why can't the hours just be nice and stay?

My clocks won't all be right for weeks
the wake up hour is what really reeks.

I used to think we gained an hour,
now 7 am being 6 tastes so sour.

Of course, the real problem of this is


Halloween, progress

I am not the Halloween mother I thought I would be. I have not yet made a single homemade costume based on our family's collective imagination. This year, unlike last, I only pondered this for a millisecond.
Maybe I will make costumes, someday. Until then, we will trade folded bills for itchy, poorly made costumes that originated in the imagination of some corporate entity. Because some things just have to give.

So much of mothering is not what I thought it would be. This is a good and a bad thing, of course. I knew it would be hard. I didn't know that some days that hardness would settle into my stomach, turning it to stone and making me fear both what I've become and what damage I've already done.

I knew I would love them. I didn't know my love for them would be so all consuming that simply watching a beloved child walk away from me in a Halloween costume could reduce me to joyful tears.

I knew I would take a million pictures of them. I didn't quite understand how many poor ones I would take.

(Let us stop for a moment and ponder the olden days, when taking pictures meant FILM and DEVELOPING and the inability to know the quality of the picture you've taken for WEEKS or at least hours. And let us give thanks for the forgiving and immediate nature of digital cameras. AMEN.)

For some reason, Halloween strikes me every year, the way some holidays do. It marks time, this candy-filled, costumed day that comes once a year. Remember when toddler Z sweated herself into a stupor because we were too dim to realize our little bee was too hot?

Remember when I was newly pregnant with E and felt every inch the Halloween ghoul?

What do you mean I need a costume? This IS my costume. SCARRRRRYYYY.

Remember when Z and E were "Cinderella" and "her fairy godmother" and we bought cheap costumes and couldn't get a good picture and ate too much candy and sat outside in the sun on the dining chairs and laughed?

Yes. I remember.


I guess they couldn't call it "Raising Children Who Are Reasonably Prepared For Basic Money Management"

I often joke about worrying that my children will grow up to be axe murderers or huffing junkies but when I'm being totally honest, and not giving into my familial tendency for exaggeration (I'm looking at you, Dad), what I really worry about is them becoming selfish, self-entitled a-holes, which is, I fear, a natural tendency of our species if left to our own devices. Obviously, there are a lot of those people in the world already and I certainly didn't need to birth any more.

Given our family's relative wealth and comfort, given all the advantages our children have been born into, how do we instill in them a sense of generosity, a tendency for selflessness or even, simply, the value of a dollar?

Understanding our relationship with money- what it's worth and how to manage it thoughtfully- seems to me a good place to start in our Preventing Selfish A-holes agenda. The only problem is, we didn't have any idea how to start teaching our girls the value of a dollar when they're given so much to start with and we can afford to get them pretty much everything they want and need (at least at this age when those things are a new Polly Pocket and a decent pair of shoes).

This all came to a head one day this past summer when I took both girls to the grocery store (which, by the way, is something I try to do as infrequently as possible, like a root canal). While at the checkout counter, as I was trying to keep E from Incredible Hulk-ing her way out of the grocery cart, Z became mesmerized by a few specific toys and candies that she could have if only her mother would part with a few measly quarters. I reminded her that, with those dispensers, she didn't know what she was going to get. This didn't dissuade her in the slightest and I wasn't about to give in to her whining and so I told her a flat but clear no. She ratcheted it up a notch or five with a few "But whyyyyyy?"s and finished it off with this clincher: "But you have lots of money in your wallet! I saw it! Why don't you ever buy things for meeeeee?".

That, I realized, is the crux of the problem in her eyes. We obviously have the money and can afford to buy her an endless supply of crappy plastic toys so "we can't afford it" doesn't ring true. Where does that leave us? With the old "because in our family, we don't spend money on cheap plastic things" and "because I SAID NO"?


I don't have a problem saying no, but I also don't like feeling miserly or capricious, sometimes buying her a "treat" on a whim and then, more often, NOT. Tying little purchases to her good behavior felt too much like bribing and as tempted as I am to do that, I don't really want to go down that dark alley on a regular basis. So I did what I always do when I'm stumped, I turned to a book, specifically Millionaire Babies and Bankrupt Brats. Truth be told I skimmed parts of it (Are becoming a millionaire or going bankrupt really our only options here?), but I did come away with the idea that it's never too early to give your children some control over money so they get used to handling it, and learn through making mistakes with it, early. Based on its advice, we decided to give Z an allowance, which is something we hadn't considered yet for someone who thinks that all coins are called quarters and credit cards are magical pieces of plastic that can pay for anything! anything at all! Also based on the book's advice, we sat down and listed all the different things that we each do to contribute to the family, including Z, and then we told her, with great fanfare, that we can, at this time, afford to give her an allowance so she can have some money of her own to spend. We do not tie her allowance to "chores", because the book said not to and books are always right, even poorly titled ones.

It took a week or so to come up with a reasonable amount and then another week to decide on how it should be divided and, honestly, I don't know if our plan makes any sense for the long term (Hello first child! Welcome to your parents' experimentation!) but here it is: we give her four dollars a week (Four since she's four. Five when she turns five, etc.). It's divided into four parts, one dollar goes into her spending wallet and three dollars go into three separate piggy banks for "giving" (ie. a year end gift to a charity that she can help chose), "presents" (ie. Christmas presents for family) and "long term savings" (ie. one day this will go into a savings account and help her pay for a single box of tissues by the time she's in college.).

The week of her first allowance, she was beside herself fantasizing of all the pink plastic things she could buy with her new wealth and insisted I take her Target as soon as that dollar entered, and immediately started burning a hole in, her wallet. After a rude awakening when she realized that her lone dollar wouldn't buy her a darn thing in the Barbie/Polly Pocket/Princess aisle, she finally, reluctantly, chose something from the dollar bins.

(Explaining taxes, which she pays out of the coins she finds in the couch cushions, took a while, too. Not coincidentally, she's now a registered libertarian.)

One the way home my suggestion of saving her money for something she really wanted from her "wish list" was met with a distinct lack of enthusiasm. The next week, somehow, the existence of something called a "dollar store" came up.

BIG mistake.

Every Saturday, for weeks and weeks, we visited our friendly neighborhood dollar store and brought home more plastic crap than you can imagine. Knock-off "Barbee"s with facial features that rubbed off, a tiny doll house that broke upon it's inaugural opening, a creepy cross-eyed babydoll with plastic-y clothing. Though CG and I consoled ourselves with the thought that this was the "learning through making mistakes" part of early money management, I was getting restless for her to come to her senses and save her money to buy her mother an unexpected gift that would say "thank you for all your kindness and generosity, and, by the way, I really love your cooking". In my usual overwhelmed, pessimistic, what-forest?-all-I-can-see-are-these-effing-trees! kind of way, I honestly assumed we'd be doing this FOREVER. I pictured taking a teenage Z and her $14 a week allowance to the dollar store each weekend, slowly adding to the towers of horribly cheap plastic crap in every corner and crevice of our house.

After a few too many trips to Ye Olde Dollar Store, CG and I decided we might need to steer this journey (you= YOU THINK?) and started gently but loudly noticing that, gee, these toys don't last very long and you know, cheap things that break and get thrown away sit in the landfill and hurt the earth. (We saved our lectures about dwindling natural resources and unfair labor practices in far-away countries for a later date.) Then, finally, about two months after this allowance experiment started, came the marvelous words we'd been hoping to hear: "You know what? I'm going to save my money this week. Because the things from the dollar store aren't made very well."

Like just about everything else about kids, our dollar store visits were just a phase.


And the last time I took her grocery shopping, she eyed the coin-operated dispensers near the checkout and said thoughtfully, "I'm not going to spend my money on those. You never know what you're going to get. And I like to KNOW."

That's my girl.


Meaning beyond motherhood, part two

I'm not sure how to view this mothering work of mine with its workday that never ends, its workweek that never ends. The rhythm of a stay-at-home mom still feels odd and unfamiliar to me: the ebb and flow of a day with no punch clock, no boss over my shoulder, no coworkers to shoot the shit with (okay, that would be you all).

This is not my job. This is simply my life.

I mentally fight every day to allow my children to be people, separate people, not projects of mine that I get to hold up as examples of what I've accomplished in my life. I can take their issues, behavior and general comportment a little too personally. This messy house and these sticky children are what I have to show for my days and when sometimes they just don't measure up to anyone's general standards for cleanliness or civility, I can't help but feel like a complete failure.

They are not a product I am making. They are not a craft project that I can post on a wall and say "See all the macaroni perfectly in a row? I did that".

I bask in their glow when they shine. Their joy and successes are some of my most precious memories in my life so far.

I am also reflected in the pools of their misery. I have never felt so low or despondent as I have sometimes as a parent.

Have I emptied myself out into a shell of a person? Am I just a vehicle for my children's development?

Sometimes at the end of the day, I'll ask Z what her most favorite and least favorite parts of the day were. After she tells me about the yummy snack at school and the tragic loss of a favorite marker, she always asks me for my report and more often than not, I list things I've observed her or E doing.

MY favorite parts of the day are usually about watching someone else do something.

When did that happen?

Of course, there is undeniable joy in watching a baby's first smile or a toddler's first steps and you would have to have a heart of stone to not have that be a highlight of your day. But lately, I've noticed that my highlights are rarely, if ever, things I've done. And that just doesn't seem right.

Next thing you know, you'll ask me what my favorite TV shows are and I'll give you a treatise about the relative merits of Sid the Science Kid vs. Caillou. And then you''ll have to shoot me.

Can I find a way to be a whole, fully realized self and an observant, caring parent? Why is this so hard for me?

Baby steps are the only way I know how to approach this.

Today, when the girls were drawing with chalk on the driveway and I was watching them and cleaning up leaves from the flower beds, I put down my bucket and sat with them in the driveway. At first I watched them draw flowers (Z) and try to eat the chalk (E). Then I took pictures of their beautiful, fleeting faces.

Then I drew my own picture.


Seeking meaning in, and beyond, motherhood

Remember Maslow's hierarchy of needs from Psych 101? Well, it appears they've revamped it, replacing "self actualization", the realization of our creative and intellectual potential, with "mate acquisition", "mate retention" and "parenthood" at the tip top of the pyramid. Does this unfairly exclude single and/or childless people from the most esteemed echelons of life? Does every creative and intellectual impulse ultimately serve the master of the evolutionary drive to procreate?

Does life's ultimate purpose really boil down to parenthood?

This has been sticking in my craw since I first read about the revamping of the pyramid in the New York Times Sunday Magazine. As I wrestle with my own questions about what I should do with my life, I keep coming back to motherhood, because it's where I am, it's what defines my days and, LORD HELP ME, too many of my nights. Like the good little suburban cliche that I am, I've "always wanted to be a mother". But looking back on my early desire for motherhood, it clearly had more to do with pure baby lust than an actual conscious choice to responsibly parent another human being for the rest of my life. It probably had a whole lot to do with an evolutionary drive that screamed out "OMG! Baby toes! Eat them!" and "Do they make baby head perfume? Because THEY SHOULD" among other, even less seemly, things.

Then, sometime in my late twenties, right around the time I broke up with a guy who was no good for me and took up with someone who actually liked me for me, as I was, warts (figurative!) and all, I also started thinking more intently about why I'm here, what my purpose in life was. And, since I didn't have an obvious calling, religious or career-wise, I just didn't have an answer. So I bided my time, dancing because I loved it, teaching Pilates and massaging backs because it paid the bills, not really sure what I was doing in a larger sense but content enough to wait for my purpose, the meaning of my life, to find me.

Until motherhood.

Because motherhood hit me like a ton of messy, confusing bricks and I still haven't made sense of its impact on my identity, four and half years in. How can I be a mother AND be all these other things I want to be at the same time? Is being a mother my only true purpose in life? How can I focus on being anything else (a physical therapist, the long-time pipe dream, or a writer of some kind, the newest what-have-you-been-smoking-in-that-pipe dream) when I often feel overwhelmed with this one job I already have?

I'm reading "What Should I Do With My Life?" by Po Bronson and though I can safely say it's not exactly answering its own title's question for me, I love reading about how different people search for meaning and purpose. We all want the same things, no matter how different our choices and journeys. I want what everyone else does: to make an impact on the world, to change my corner of it for the better. I want my life to mean something. I want to leave something good behind when I'm gone. Something bigger, better than me.

Are my girls those "good things"? Is it unfair, not to mention unhealthy, to think about your children this way?

Like it or not, on purpose or not, for ill or for good, motherhood instantly made my life about something other than me. It meant I would leave something behind. It means my life has already had a profound effect. Motherhood intrinsically means I matter. Now it's up to me to make sure that my impact on my children is a positive one. Because I will live on through them, and through all the people they touch.

(No pressure!)

But I also search for other ways to matter. I know that soon enough I will not be so utterly consumed by the strains of motherhood and, without belittling the importance of mothering well, I want to add more than just my procreative and mothering self to the world.

I'll just come right out and say it: new pyramid be damned, I want self-actualization.


The highly sensitive blogger

Well, howdy!

I've obviously been in the midst of a blogging hiatus. I've been writing, of course, but after blathering on for several paragraphs, I pause, highlight, cut, paste and save, somewhere else.

There are two reasons for me not blogging much lately. First, after a summer of profound and sudden loss, we, as a family, are struggling with many challenges, one of which is understanding temperament and personality traits that have always been present but have recently been exacerbated. Much of this is too personal to share here, because most of it is not my story to tell. The rest is below.

I've always known I am a sensitive person - I weep at any commercial with a dog or a baby and HEAVEN HELP ME if there is a dog AND a baby - but I didn't honestly give my temperament as a whole much thought. Reading "The Highly Sensitive Child" and "The Highly Sensitive Person" earlier this summer was like hearing a clarion call. Suddenly, the knowledge that I am "highly sensitive" colors everything I see and do and think about myself and the world around me. So many things make sense, pieces of me are fitting into a greater whole in ways I never previously understood. Even after years of therapy, I've been simply blown away with new self-knowledge.

This has been deeply unsettling. Add in the other person who shares my temperament and her recent challenges and you have a recipe for MUCH journaling but not much blogging.

The other reason for a blogging hiatus is this: a fracquaintance (we've been to each other's house for several meals but I wouldn't exactly call him up on the phone to shoot the breeze) has been diagnosed with stage 4 lung cancer that has spread to his bones and brain. (Googling the survival rates for his cancer right before bedtime was not my best move of late. [Um, HELLO, dingbat. Remember you're highly sensitive?]) He is 36 years old. He's never smoked.

He has a wife and two children under five.

I know this happens. I just can't handle it happening to people I know, to "young", healthy people. Fathers. Not after our summer. We were just getting over thinking and talking about death all the time.

It simply breaks my heart into millions of tiny, sad, angry pieces.

I keep trying to write about something else. But thoughts about these profoundly sad and difficult issues are all that come out.

Hopefully writing this will help clear my mind and make room for something else, ANYTHING ELSE, to think, and write, about.



Dear Eliza,

At 16 months old, you are a blur.

You move quickly, quietly. The typical toddler zombie waddling has been replaced by a pace so quick, so sure-footed, I have to call it running. Any time I try to take your picture, it is a blur.
I did take many, many more photos of your sister at this age. If you ever give me grief for not taking as many photos of you, like aggrieved second children everywhere, I will bite my tongue to keep from saying, "Your sister stood still once in a while UNLIKE SOME PEOPLE I KNOW".

This is your face after being told a stern "No."

I work every day to see you for you, rather than hold you up against your sister for contrast. Your story is written next to your sisters, and after hers, so it is easy and natural to compare you two. Z is sensitive, E is a tank. Z was an early and expressive communicator, E was a gross-motor energizer bunny.

I hope I rise above these easy and simplistic comparisons more often than not.

I admit I was worried, just a bit, when you showed zero interest in sign language as a baby. After all, your sister started signing at 9 months and by a year, had over twenty signs. As a result of her early expressiveness, we were ardent baby sign evangelists and started manically signing at you when you were 9 months old. You looked aggrieved any time we tried to mold your hands into a sign or get you to look at us while we signed. You had other priorities, like gumming the plastic caps on the screws that keep the toilet attached to the floor and scaling the furniture with a purloined box of crackers clutched under your arm. After months of frustration, I almost gave up signing with you, sighing memorably: "I give up, she's just not interested.".

I think the day after I said that, you started signing "more", in your own time, in your own way, with your two pointer fingers tapping together. Thank you for the reminder that I shouldn't give up, that you are on your own journey, your own timetable.

Now you sign with great enthusiasm: "more", "all done", "milk", "water", "pacifier", "dog", "cat", "plane", "banana", "cracker", "cheese" and "book". You are working on saying your name ("Eye-Ah") and your sister's ("Yo-EE") and say "mama", "dada", and "ice" clear as a bell. Good thing we have an ice dispenser, because you do love it almost as much as your family.

Your new communication skills are a blessing in so many ways, but first and foremost because it means your screeching has abated. My eardrums thank you. Your words and signs thrill us all, because we get glimpses into your head. Apparently, you are ever hopeful that there is a dog behind every corner, though you'll settle for a cat. And crushed ice goes with every meal.

I need to learn the sign for "tomato" because you can spend inordinate amounts of time picking, sorting and squishing the tiny abundant fruit on our monster cherry tomato plant.
After you've been inside for awhile, we often find smushed green cherry tomatoes still clutched in your fingers. Or smeared on the couch cushions. Or in your hair.

So now, as I cuddle with you before bedtime, I sniff your hair and it smells sweet and earthy, like the sun and soil and sky all mixed together. It is different from the dreamy baby-head smell that I love so much. But it too is sweet and I love it too, so very much.


Your Clueless But Hopeful Mama



Z definitely gets her eyes from her daddy. I could stare into their eyes for hours, watching as the color changes with their moods, the light in the room, the color of their clothing. Sometimes the dark brown center dominates, other times it is reduced to a small starburst at the center of a green sea.

Her feet look like her Nana's. Petite and pretty with a high arch. Nothing like my grizzled, flattened feet, large and ungraceful even before they were damaged by years of dancing.

Her lips look like mine when I was her age, I think. Before the charming new above-the-lip wrinkles appeared. (W. T. F.?)

She's got her Daddy's beautiful wavy hair. I love to watch them both get curlier before my eyes as the humidity rises.

She definitely has the long torso/short arm thing that runs in my family for which I have already started apologizing. I'm sorry, sweetheart, but most clothing isn't made with us in mind. Waists on dresses are always too high, sleeves will be perpetually rolled up, midriffs are often unwittingly exposed.

These are the obvious inheritances. The fun ones.

Before Z's birth, we would conjure her up in our minds, piece by piece, as if we could pick and chose from a menu of our combined genetic material. We always focused on the good stuff.

She'll have your eyes-

No, YOUR eyes!

-and your mom's skin.

My dad's laugh!

Maybe your cousin's hair?

We were imagining, hoping, seeing only some of the possibilities.

I am now haunted by the not so positive possibilities. After a summer of loss, I can't help but look at our girls a little differently: what genetic curses might be lurking inside them? Our combined genetic pool now looks murky and terrifying, with sharks lying in wait. Will something grow and metastasize slowly like what killed their great grandmother? Or will something unexpectedly burst like what killed their grandfather? Will the same shark that took down my cousin emerge someday in their waters?

As I lie awake at night wondering what pieces of genetic code might prevail to bring our girls hardship, pain, and illness, I sometimes feel guilty for having had them in the first place. We brought them into this world knowing all the terrible things that could befall them. This responsibility takes my breath away. So, in the dark, clutching my pillow, I try to train myself to think like a Buddhist: pain is inevitable, suffering is optional. The curse of being human is our inherent imperfection, our inescapable mortality. Much as I wish to in the early morning hours, there is little I can do to change the known and unknown genetic traits we have bestowed upon our girls. I can only try to guide them through their own blessed, imperfect life.

If I really could take back Z's long torso, would I?

If I could have known what exact form their inevitable pain will take, would I have chosen not to have had children? (Anyone care to help me rewrite that sentence? After 347 rewrites, I fear it is beyond hope.)

I look forward to discovering whether E's fingers will resemble my Grandma's once they leave their chubby sausage stage and whose voice hers will echo and whether she will escape the plague of the long torso. And I pray for the strength to accept our girls' every other inheritance, too.


Empty nests

They started falling about a month ago. Wind and rain brought them down, one by one, from their branches' formerly snug embraces.

Z exclaimed every time we saw an empty nest lying on the sidewalk. "We have to put them back! The birdies need them!"

"The baby birds are out of their nests now, Boo. They don't need them anymore."

"But where do they sleep?"

"Those nests were for eggs and babies. The baby birds are grown up now and are out on their own," I said vaguely, not confident in my avian knowledge. (I mean, where do they sleep?)

"But what if they get lonely? Do they still see their Mommy and Daddy?"

"Yes. I'm sure they do. All the time," I said, sure of the right, if not the correct, answer to this question.


About ten years ago, I was giving a massage to woman whose daughter was about to leave for college. I asked her if she was excited or sad about her empty nest, or some other equally clueless question, and she lifted her head out of the horseshoe-shaped face cradle, looked right at me and said "Your nest empties slowly, one day at a time". I was struck both by her sad directness and the use of the pronoun 'you' since I was, at the time, a childless twenty-something massage therapist, dating the third of three men who would eventually tell me "I'm gay and being with you helped me realize it" which at the time I was sure could only mean one of two things: a. I was actually a gay man or b. I was an actively repellent representative for the female sex.

Her words stuck with me though, even if I had no clue what she was talking about at the time.


Our next door neighbor came by yesterday to say goodbye to Z before leaving for college. After hugging her goodbye, Z was full of questions.

"Mama? Do I have to go to college?"

"No sweetheart. Your father and I hope you choose to go to college but we'll also support you following your dreams in other ways if that's what you decide." I said, carefully not adding please don't let that dream be stripping/drug dealing/selling your organs on the black market.

"Good. I don't want to go away to college. I would miss you guys too much."

"I would miss you too. But you might feel differently one day, darlin'. And that's okay."

"I don't think I will. I'll just live here forever, okay?"

"Okay. That's okay with me." I said, glancing at our neighbors house which suddenly seemed overly large.


E has been teething, which is a nice, simple way of saying "two giant, blunt but sharp around the edges, MF-ING molars are forcibly pushing their way through the tender expanse of her gums at an agonizing pace". She's been waking early for a few weeks now, screaming in pain. There is little we can do to calm her. Pacifiers, sippy cups, and ice chips are some of the options that are quickly, and often violently, tossed aside.

I know what would calm her. I know what would give her comfort. And this morning, for the first time, she remembered too. As I picked her up from her crib, she pulled my nightgown down and lunged for my chest. Even though it's been weeks- a month?- since she last nursed and she was the one who weaned herself due to lack of interest, she suddenly remembered and wanted to.

So I held her as if she were nursing, placed her paci back in her mouth and rocked her. I cried and really, finally, understood: Your nest empties slowly, one day at a time.


I LOVERMONT (though not so much at 5:30 am)

Z lays just a few inches away from me, taking her first nap in many weeks, maybe months. I study how her eyelashes fan out across the new freckles on her cheeks. I can't remember the last time I watched her sleep from this close up. But I easily remember what it was like to take every nap with her this way, when she was still swaddled and soft-skulled. Now, as then, her breathing is ragged, her body twitches randomly, but "peaceful" is still the word that comes readily to mind.

I cannot nap, though I am bone tired, the kind of tired that only happens here at my parents' lake house in Vermont. My vigilance is ever, ever present; 98 % of me can be desperate for sleep but that last 2 % keeps my nervous system humming, listening for E's waking noises that are sure to come just as I fall asleep.

I am not as tired as I was last summer here, when E was an infant and Z was starting to drop her naps all together. I am not as tired as that first summer as a mother when Z was an infant and I stumbled around in the kind of wide-eyed stupor that is unique to new parents. Those summers I pretty much hated everyone who was getting more than three consecutive hours of sleep. People could complain about work deadlines or plantar warts or deep existential ennui and all I could think was: But you're getting sleep. WHAT MORE DO YOU WANT.

This summer is the first time that E and Z are sleeping together in the same room. We thought this might work well, since at home, both girls were reliably sleeping until about 7 am. We prepped Z extensively; she was so excited about bunking with her sister in! the! same! room! that we feared she would wake her sister up to play with her in the wee hours of the morning. What we didn't expect was E waking up shrieking at 5:30 am every morning, causing Z to cover her ears and cry at equal volume "Too loud! IT'S TOO LOUD!". We didn't expect that if that happened, we wouldn't be able to get anyone back to sleep and so our days would start out at 5:30 am with shrieking, crying and pouting. (The former two would be the girls, the latter would be me, of course).


Down at the dock, I can see the neighbor kids, the ones we thought looked young enough to play with Z from a distance but when we went over to say hi we realized they were way too old to be intrigued by our offer of a "playdate at our play structure!" "With popsicles!". Now they are playing in the water, laughing, diving, swimming without any assistance or hovering by their parents.

Their parents sit on long deck chairs, some evidently dozing, others reading books and sipping dark liquids. I squat on the gravelly sand with arms outstretched to keep E from toddling right off the dock as it bumps along on the waves of passing motor boats. My book is lying beside my bed, waiting for the last 20 minutes of the day to be devoured in desperate hungry gulps. I don't hate those neighbors like I might have last summer. I know I will be them soon enough and I try not to wish the time to move faster. I love this phase. I do.


There are no bugs this year, which is the biggest gift you could possibly imagine since some years, the mosquitoes swarm you in huge clouds the moment you leave the house, and singletons attack you from all corners of the house before flying to the ceiling in slow, drunk circles to stay just out of reach until they are hungry again.

No bugs? Beautiful weather? THANK YOU, VERMONT.


My girls are enjoying themselves so much and though our time here still feels a hair or twelve short of what I used to expect from a vacation, their obvious enjoyment makes it mostly fun for us as well (early morning hours excepted).

Sometimes a tiny, self-centered voice inside me hisses that my chance to experience the world, my chance to experience joy, has been replaced by watching my girls experience joy, experience the world. The voice hisses that I would love to spend all morning following my whim and wish, the way they do; going from favorite books to exploring outside to digging in the sand and dumping shovels into the lake to be retrieved over and over and over again. I enjoy doing those things with them, being a guide as they explore the world. There is substantial, indescribable joy in watching them, playing with them, and I wouldn't trade it for anything. But in the dark moments, after hours of following and guiding and listening and helping, I can't help but yearn just a bit for my vacation. The one where I get to follow my every whim and wish. (5 hours lying on the couch reading a book until I fall asleep for a drifting nap, followed by a quiet lunch on the dock with the paper, then a hike to the waterfalls, finishing with a swim in the lake and a leisurely dinner, in case you were wondering.)

I dream of finding that elusive balance: experiencing the joy of watching and being with my girls and yet also carving out moments of joy and wonder for myself that is non-kid related. My parents have been wonderfully helpful, my father full of fanciful princess stories and my mother eager to both hold and bounce E and spend hours making tiny clay beads with Z. Tonight CG and I will have a sorely needed date night. It may not be a full week of relaxation, a vacation in the old, pre-kid model, but it's still pretty darn great.

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